Contemporary Directions: Korean Folk Music Engaging the Twentieth Century and Beyond

By Kim, Myosin | Korean Studies, June 2002 | Go to article overview

Contemporary Directions: Korean Folk Music Engaging the Twentieth Century and Beyond


Kim, Myosin, Korean Studies


Contemporary Directions: Korean Folk Music Engaging the Twentieth Century and Beyond, edited by Nathan Hesselink. Korea Research Monograph 27. Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, 2001. 262 pp., illus., index-glossary. $20.00 paper.

Comtemporary Directions: Korean Folk Music Engaging the Twentieth Century and Beyond presents eight articles authored by prominent scholars in the field of Korean traditional music. This work, which includes authors from South Korea and the English-speaking sphere, contributes both insider and outsider perspectives to an understanding of the place of Korean folk music in today's society. In the introduction to the collected essays, the editor, Nathan Hesselink, states that the book is an "attempt to address and answer the question what is Korean folk music?" or "what is the nature of Korean folk music" (p. 1). He also mentions two issues that are explored in the book: (1) Korean folk music as a simple, unrestrained, fast, and emotional music genre and (2) that the concept of "folk" must be linked to the past (p. 2). Inevitably in a book about traditional genres, there are numerous names and designations that defy translation, so readers not previously acquainted with many of the Korean terms that appear in these essays will appreciate the extensive index-glossary. Furthermore, not all music classifications and terminologies of one culture are readily equated with those of another culture, as in the case of the term kugak. In his introduction, the editor writes, "traditional music is commonly divided between kugak, often translated as 'court music' or 'classical music,' and sogak/minsogak, or 'folk music'" (p. 1). Kugak, which literally means "national music," had been used to refer to "court music" in a certain period of time in the past (p. 33). However, the terms chong 'ak and aak refer to "court music" or "classical music," while kugak generally indicates a generic term for "traditional music," including both court/classical and folk music. Some readers will find the editor's usage of the term confusing.

"Historical Development of Korean Folk Music" by Song Bang-Song, provides an overview of folk genres of Korean traditional music that became fully cultivated after the seventeenth century. It provides background information on Korean traditional folk music and prepares the reader for the next seven essays, which examine the evolving nature of Korean folk music in the twentieth century. The value of this article resides in its wealth of information about vocal music genres such as p'ansori, kagok, kasa, sijo, and minyo and instrumental music such as youngsan hoesang, sanjo, and nong'ak. It is beneficial for readers who do not have a strong background in Korean traditional folk music as well as advanced researchers who are concerned with important figures and names of representative manuscripts for each genre.

"The Traditional Opera of the Future?: Ch'angguk's First Century" by Andrew Killick and "On the Road with 'Och'ae Chilgut': Stages in the Development of Korean Percussion Band and Dance" by Nathan Hesselink are exemplary studies of changes in traditional folk music extending over the last century and continuing today. Taking a macro perspective on ch'angguk and a micro perspective on the och'ae chilguk rhythmic pattern respectively, both authors explore how Korean folk music has been adopted and adapted into new contexts within Korea's ever-changing society. On the one hand, Killick examines the ch'angguk as an "instructive example of an art form that has steered a winding course through the twentieth century between the conflicting imperatives of tradition and modernity, and the dialectic of these two terms continues to inform the renegotiation of ch'angguk's identity as the genre prepares to enter the third millennium and its own second century of existence" (p. 23). On the other hand, Hesselink examines the progress of a rhythmic pattern, och'ae chilgut, in the context of "performance space" (p. …

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